152 Influencing Community and Neighborhood Life change is a significant professional method. The social worker assumes and con- veys to community residents that they are experts about their community. The social worker consults with community members, conveying a willingness to help through a mutual process of problem-solving. In offering advice, the social worker must avoid creating an image as a superior expert who has instant answers. Members are more likely to become involved and take action when they have identified an issue of immediate concern and importance to them. To this end, social workers undertake a community and/or neighborhood needs assessment using a top-down or bottom-up approach, or a combination of the two. Based on various sources of data, the social worker develops a list of com- munity members who might be interested in taking action and selects the most effective recruitment method to engage them. In building informal support systems of relatedness in communities, the social worker establishes relation- ships with individual natural helpers and validates the importance of natural helping, helps to establish self-help groups, and recruits, trains, and supervises role-related volunteers. Group work skills, such as scanning, helping members talk to one another, identifying common themes, and connecting the individual to the group and the group to the individual, are necessary to help community members recog- nize their underlying commonalities and develop a plan for collective action. As needed, the worker also may need to utilize skills of internal mediation and advocacy if problematic interpersonal dynamics surface in members’ meetings. Social workers must gain community members’ willingness to participate in undertaking action in their own behalf and help them develop a stake in the work. Because community members may believe that change is not possible and/or ques- tion their ability to make a difference, the worker may need to help them develop critical consciousness so that they appreciate how broader social forces have created the stress in their lives and how their collective efforts can address them. The worker also assists members in creating a structure for work. Partici- pants will often need a social worker’s guidance and consultation in learning to conduct their own meetings, to engage in democratic group decision-making, to reach out and build constituencies, to deal with difference, and to build con- sensus. The social worker also may need to help community members decide whether they intend to maintain their organizational structure to tackle future problems or disband after they have completed their initial collective efforts. 6. Identifying and Implementing Change Strategies Although dominant groups and power structures can be expected to resist social change efforts, community members and social workers are not limited to conflict-oriented interventions. Other methods often need to be tried first.
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